When the Rev. John Wagner was asked to teach the United Methodist Women's 2008 school of mission sessions on Israel and Palestine, he decided to learn more about the issue by participating in a trip sponsored by the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.
"Because I had many Jewish friends," Wagner recalled, "and had studied the Nazi Holocaust and visited Auschwitz as a young person, I initially felt the narrative presented on the tour was unbalanced in favor of the Palestinians. Because of that, I asked a lot of hard questions. Eventually, the reality of the situation became starkly clear. Our missionaries are telling the truth. The oppression of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government is undeniable. How could I not speak out after witnessing it?"
Returning home to Middletown, Ohio, Wagner became a founder of United Methodists for Kairos Response (fullness of time), an educational and advocacy ministry of laity and clergy who believe the occupation of Palestine is unjust and must end.
Thanks to United Methodist gifts on Peace with Justice Sunday, UMKR received two $5,000 grants. "The first," Wagner said, "helped us to put together a 'founders' meeting in 2010, and the second was used to help fund … a part-time staff person."
Your gifts on Peace with Justice Sunday enables The United Methodist Church to have a voice in advocating for peace and justice through a broad spectrum of global programs.
He said the offering "represents something vital to authentic Christian witness, namely, a willingness to directly address systemic injustice around the world. Our offerings of material and spiritual support to people in trouble are equally important, but without also engaging the powers that suppress basic human rights, we limit the gospel message of hope and freedom for all people."
UMKR strives to help the church live out its best intentions by putting words into actions. "This is what we promise in our baptismal covenant," Wagner said. "We are likewise standing with the many Jews, Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land who engage in nonviolent struggle for a just peace."
UMKR staff communicate regularly with supporters via email newsletters and send alerts as current events may demand. "At any given moment," Wagner said, "one of our members may be giving a talk to a UMW group, meeting with a member of the United Methodist Board of Pension and Health Benefits, writing a letter to a congressional representative or leading a group on a tour of Hebron in the West Bank."
In 2014, Wespath (formerly Board of Pension and Health Benefits) withdrew its investments in G4S, a private prison operating in Israel, in part due to violations of human rights. In December 2015, the board screened against investment in five Israeli banks that were financing the building of illegal Jewish-only towns and cities in the West Bank. Both actions received worldwide press coverage.
"We can't have a genuine spirituality separated from social justice," Wagner asserted. "To be sure, prayer and Bible study are necessary for discipleship, but, all too often, the church has lost its nerve when asked to live out its collective faith. We feel we have, indeed, helped make disciples and are proud of the fact that our UMKR membership includes those who call themselves Pentecostal, evangelical and progressive Christians—all of whom are now united in the belief that we are called to transform the world."
Barbara Dunlap-Berg, freelance writer and editor, retired from UMCom
One of six churchwide Special Sundays with offerings of The United Methodist Church, Peace with Justice Sunday enables The United Methodist Church to have a voice in advocating for peace and justice through a broad spectrum of global programs. The special offering benefits peace with justice ministries in the annual conference and through the General Board of Church and Society.